The Council held its annual Board meeting in Valdez, Alaska, on May 5-6, 2022. Among other business, the Board convened to elect officers who will serve from May 2022 to May 2023.
The elected executive committee is comprised of:
President: Robert Archibald, representing the City of Homer
Vice President: Amanda Bauer, representing the City of Valdez
Treasurer: Wayne Donaldson, representing the City of Kodiak
Secretary: Bob Shavelson, representing the Oil Spill Region Environmental Coalition
Ben Cutrell, representing Chugach Alaska Corporation
Robert Beedle, representing the City of Cordova
Angela Totemoff, representing the Community of Tatitlek
“I am honored to serve as president of the Board for another year,” said Robert Archibald. “As one of two regional citizens advisory councils in the nation, it is incumbent upon our organization to hold accountable industry and regulators. It is essential that the highest safety standards are maintained in order to prevent oil spills and make sure there is a strong response system in place should prevention measures fail in order to protect the citizens, Valdez Marine Terminal workforce, associated tanker crews, and Alaska’s environment which we hold so dear.”
The Council is grateful to have the support of its many volunteers from all over the Exxon Valdez oil spill region. The new executive committee is an excellent representation of the Council.
Twenty-five years ago this year, the Council released its first study on the threat of marine invasive species to Prince William Sound. The researchers determined that the biggest source of risk was the ballast water discharged from the oil tankers arriving in Prince William Sound.
Ballast water is sea water that the tanker takes on when they are not carrying oil. This helps stabilize the vessel during ocean voyages. Larvae of marine species can end up in the water. Tankers may release this water straight into Port Valdez if it is carried in clean tanks, segregated from the oil and not contaminated.
This program has changed through the years with advances in science and technology.
Here are a few highlights:
Council conducts first ever comprehensive study on the threat of invasive species in high-latitude, cold water ecosystems. Researchers confirm that Prince William Sound is at risk of invasion.
Skye Steritz’ passion for a clean environment started at an early age, during a childhood spent outdoors in Texas.
“I was raised with environmentalist values and became an advocate, especially for water, as I got older.”
You can hear the smile in her voice when she’s asked why she first moved to Alaska.
“My love of water,” she replies. “It’s critical to thriving of life on earth.”
Growing respect for diverse opinions
Her father was a geophysicist for Exxon for 30 years; conversations with him gave her a well-rounded perspective and a deep respect for oil workers.
“He recognizes the threats of transporting oil, from drilling to pipelines to tankers,” she explains. “My conversations with him prepped me to be able to communicate with people from all backgrounds.”
She pursued these ideas after high school, racking up three Masters degrees: water resources policy and management; water management and governance; and water cooperation and diplomacy. Her studies took her to Ghana, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, California, and Oregon.
“I was in water management classes with students from all over the world,” Steritz mentions. “In the Netherlands, I was one of two from the U.S. out of about 200 students.”
Her studies included collaborative projects, working with people from different cultures with different communication styles.
“We were learning to listen deeply and understand where people are coming from,” Steritz continues. “We integrated ideas together, rather than assuming any one person had all the answers.”
Steritz believes that’s an integral part of living in small-town Alaska. “You’re going to have neighbors that have different opinions than you and that’s okay. We all still need to work together.”
Steritz landed in Soldotna at first, working for the Kenai Watershed Forum. She now lives in Cordova, where she works as a kelp farmer and a special education aide at Mt. Eccles Elementary School.
She recalls her first glimpse of Alaska during her plane trip to Soldotna in 2015. “I was having a dream about a community caring for each other in a really cold, harsh subarctic environment, helping each other through a tough winter,” she recounts, “then I woke up, and the first part of Alaska that I ever saw was Prince William Sound.”
“I just remember being filled with awe,” she shares. “It feels full circle that I live here now and work on the Sound.”
Cultivating the environment by growing healthy food
Steritz’ latest adventure puts her values to work. In 2019, she and her partner Sean Den Adel started Noble Ocean Farms, a new kelp farm in Simpson Bay, near Cordova.
“It increases food security and nutrition security for rural communities like ours and provides habitat for fish species like salmon and herring.”
They are currently growing ribbon and sugar kelp. After spores are collected in nearby waters, they are then grown in seawater aquariums at the Alutiiq Pride Marine Institute and Native Conservancy. Once they are big enough to survive on their own, the still-tiny kelp get shipped back to Steritz and Den Adel, who “plant” them along ropes attached to a structure below the water surface. The kelp is harvested in April and May. They plan to sell fresh kelp at the docks in Cordova and potentially Whittier and Valdez.
Volunteering for the Council
When Steritz first moved to Cordova, she participated in Alyeska’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System’s fishing vessel training program to clean up oil spills.
“It became very clear how hard it would be in reality to clean up an oil spill,” she says. “It seems like an astronomical challenge, so our only true hope is prevention.”
In 2020, Steritz joined the Council’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response, or OSPR, Committee.
She is interested in spill planning for the Copper River Delta area, in particular a project OSPR developed to capture the history of the Copper River Delta and Flats’ oil spill protection strategies.
In the 90s, a group of Cordovans pushed to get geographic response strategies developed specifically for the region. The area is home to important marine species and cultural sites, and it would be particularly challenging to clean up a spill in the area. The results were adopted into government plans in the late 90s. The committee is working with researchers to document that history, including why this work was later dropped from the government plans, and how to support planning for the area in future.
“People in our community are concerned that there is not a plan for the Flats in place currently,” Steritz notes.
Natalie Novik, administrative assistant for the Anchorage office, passed away in October 2021, after a two-year battle with cancer. Natalie joined Council staff in June 2014.
Born and educated in Paris, Natalie was proud of her Breton and Russian roots. She dedicated much of her life to oil spill prevention and response in Alaska and internationally.
She volunteered to help clean up after multiple oil spills that plagued Brittany starting in the 1970s. When the Exxon Valdez spill occurred, Natalie was teaching in New York and already planning to move to Alaska.
In Alaska, Natalie spent 13 years with Northern Forum, a nonprofit group created to improve communications and cooperation in northern regions. In that role she supported providing ongoing know-how and assistance related to the 1994 pipeline spill in the Komi Republic in Russia. As part of Northern Forum’s program on disaster management in the North and the Arctic, Natalie was in charge of relations with the Arctic Council.
Years before joining the Council’s staff, she provided translation and interpretation between the Council and Sydicat Mixte Vigipol, a citizen governance group created after the Amoco Cadiz ran aground in 1978 on the Brittany coast. Natalie also worked two years for Ecoshelf on Sakhalin Island in Russia, translating contracts and documents related to oil spill prevention, monitoring, and response.
Natalie was an advocate for residents of northern regions and cross-cultural engagement in many ways. She worked for the Alaska Native Science Commission’s community self-reliance project from 2012-2013, and the World Trade Centers Association immediately before joining the Council’s staff. From 2009-2014, she served as Honorary Consul of France in Alaska. She was a devoted volunteer for the Celtic Community of Alaska, where she was still serving as president until she passed.
Natalie was very proud of her work with the Council and was a true believer in our mission. She provided vast contributions to the Council’s robust archives, directly supporting the success of many projects that rely on historical knowledge. She firmly believed in the value of gathering and connecting in person, and poured attention into every detail for the annual Science Night event, volunteer workshop, and holiday party.
Natalie left behind her beloved cat Sashka (who has been adopted by a friend), many friends and colleagues, and memories of her sense of humor, caring, creativity, and passion. When Natalie applied for her position at the Council, she summed up her career thusly: “curious and creative individuals will go through life learning new skills and enriching their potential.”